The Role of E-Sports in K-12 Education

I grew up in a generation where gaming was frowned upon and seen as a social activity with limited value. The idea that gaming can be good for you was incredibly foreign to me. So when I saw an entire section (at an education conference) dedicated to E-Sports in K-12 schools, I was shocked. 

I was wondering how could I have missed the growth of E-Sports to the point where schools and teachers are adapting E-Sports as a part of their core program. To make sense of this, I started to do a bit of digging and my perspective has since changed.  

The total audience of E-Sports has grown significantly over the past few years - trending toward 550M this year. Last year, people watched over 6.6 billion hours of E-Sports videos worldwide. 

Companies in the E-Sports space are expected to make over $1B in revenue - a remarkable feat for an industry that was overlooked for years. 

E-Sports in K-12 Schools

Early on, teens were the main consumer of video game competitions but that has expanded to multiple age groups. 

The most common games associated with E-Sports (overall and in the K-12 space) include real-time strategy (RTS), multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA), and first-person shooter (FPS). Popular games include Minecraft, League of Legends and World of Warcraft. 

Today, secondary and post-secondary schools are adopting E-Sports at an increasing pace. I've had several conversations with teachers who are advocating to bring E-Sports to an earlier age (e.g. Grade 4 students). 

The idea of game-based learning has been around for a while and quite honestly has been a slippery slope. While schools have placed a lot of emphasis on making sure that the content in the game is curriculum-aligned, teachers have often struggled with the fact that some programs could get too addicting. 

This brings us to the arguments for and against E-Sports. 

The Argument for E-Sports in K-12

The main rationale for spreading E-Sports in STEM education is for the development of soft skills. Soft skills are defined as intra- and interpersonal skills essential for human development, social participation, and success in the workplace. Soft skills, such as communication and the ability to work with others on simple or complex tasks, are what employers look for. Soft skills are not natural but are obtainable and can be learned whenever needed. Here's a list of soft skills that were identified by MDPI. 

The Argument Against E-Sports in K-12

Mental Health: Some experts consider playing video games such as League of Legends or World of Warcraft an addiction severe enough to be considered a serious adolescent public health issue. Other experts claim, although this is not proven, that excessive use of video games can cause mental health concerns and conditions such as Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). 

Physical Health: Video games may not encourage physical fitness or appropriate nutrition, which in some cases may be true, but E-Sports in K-12 settings have addressed issues regarding nutrition. A school district in Kansas adopted E-Sports as a model to develop healthy practices as well as educational support. The students involved in this course are required to exercise and practice good nutrition, which is logged and submitted to the teacher. In a K-12 setting, standards for nutrition, grades, and any other form of eligibility may correlate with the established standards of the existing athletic governing body 

How E-Sports Helps You After School

Colleges and universities are seeing the potential of this untapped group of potential students, who excel at teamwork, critical thinking, and technical skills. In March 2016, the University of California, Irvine (UCI), announced that it would become the first public university to create a scholarship program based on the game League of Legends, a MOBA. In addition, Robert Morris University (Chicago) offers a scholarship based on League of Legends that covers 50% of tuition and all room and boarding costs.

Another example of scholarship opportunity for E-Sports is Stephens College, which offers more than 30 videogame scholarships and is the first women0 s college to sponsor E-Sports programs. 

Employers, especially those who game themselves, are increasingly valuing the soft skills that come from gaming. Check this tweet out from the CEO of Shopify to a retired pro gamer: 

Tobi followed up on this tweet with more context on his thinking. “It’s insanely hard to become a pro in Starcraft, significantly harder than it is to get a degree. So I feel like this should be highly valuable on a CV. My offer to bring in ex pro players is more general than my offer to select for an internship.” “Shopify has a history of bringing in people in by alternative proofs of doing something difficult. We’ve got some chess GMs, Olympians, etc. It’s a huge privilege to work with dedicated and driven people like that.”

Based on this perspective, E-Sports is no different from any other sport and should therefore be accessible to students in the classroom. People who have been traditionally shunned from the classroom when it comes to gaming, should be able to showcase their skills (similar to students who play physical sports or music). 

What's Next?

While schools may be equipped to properly use E-Sports, my concern is that parents are less likely to have the time or training to monitor their children when it comes to E-Sports. This is a major concern for me because parents are more likely to not allow the use of E-Sports (creating friction with what's being accepted in schools) or not monitor the use of E-Sports (increasing the likelihood of friction).  


Suthen Siva

January 25, 2020